The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Opinion

March 5, 2013

Editorial: Sequester cuts testify to dysfunctional government

As the sequestration cuts begin, it is crystal clear to the American people that our elected federal officials are more interested in playing politics than in sound government.

House Speaker John Boehner called off talks on Thursday that could’ve stopped the sequestration cuts from going into effect on Friday. This was after President Barack Obama offered numerous proposals of budget cuts that were all turned down by the House GOP, mostly because the president insisted on tax increases to accompany the cuts.

Obama also proposed a cut in the corporate tax and a steeper tax cut for manufacturers by closing loopholes in the tax code. But House Republicans said no.

In addition, Obama offered to reduce spending in health care programs such as Medicare by $400 billion over 10 years, change an inflation formula for government benefits that would result in lower cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security and other programs, and reduce other spending, for total reductions of $900 billion over 10 years. House Republicans said no.

Those cuts, together with about $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction already achieved over the past two years through spending cuts and a year-end tax increase on taxpayers making more than $400,000 would achieve a $4 trillion deficit reduction target. But House Republicans were still dissatisfied, in large part because of the accompanying proposal to raise taxes.

Now, American citizens are left to wonder whether Obama’s foes are going too far in their opposition to his proposals. They — House Republicans and Obama — chose to let sequestration begin, despite the indiscriminate funding cuts that come with it. This is simply bad government — and bad politics.

We elect our legislators to navigate the labyrinth of public finance carefully and expertly so that the country ends up in the best place. But instead we get indiscriminate hacking. And President Obama is not blameless in this farce. Choosing the path of political expediency, he agreed during his first term to the sequester that hit Friday.

Unless legislation is passed, the government will shut down on March 27. House Republicans, thinking politics, would be wise to remember 1995, when the Newt Gingrich-led House halted government payments. President Clinton came out smelling like a rose, and the GOP became the object of scorn.

The sequester was different because it won’t affect as many people, and Republicans can rationalize their opposition by claiming needed spending cuts. Under sequester, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are spared.

Sequester backers trot out numbers that show that the new cuts won’t really amount to much and are a start in the right direction. But those cuts will mean jobs lost, which means people’s livelihoods will suffer. The job losses won’t be massive, but they’ll feel massive to anyone who loses a job because politicians couldn’t find a compromise.

It’s time for House Republicans and Obama to have serious talks about how to prevent future economic crises so the next four years won’t be a series of fiscal cliffs that dominate Washington’s time while needed policy changes go by the wayside.

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